Expecting “Wrong” Sweetness

A surprising Jesus Story that’s not as sweet as we expect

Snickers. Mounds and Almond Joys. Hershey’s. Smarties. Twizzlers. Kit Kat. Necco Wafers. Milky Ways. Sweet Tarts. Bubble Gum. Halloween candy, remember? What was your favorite to find in the bag, pillow case, bucket, or carryall when you got home that night? Mine were Snickers and Mounds.

Remember the next morning, waking up to your stash? Not like Christmas probably, but better than most mornings as a kid (at least for me). “How much did I get last night?” “What can I trade?” “What can I take to school today?” Whatever the thought, you expected a sweet day, right?

A while ago…

…late night talk show host Jimmy Kimmel suggested to parents that they play a prank on their kids the day after Halloween. “When your kids wake up after Halloween, tell them you ate all their candy…” and then film their reaction! The responses (you can see some here) were not “sweet” for the most part. Most kids took it hard, some very hard. In fact, it’s kind of disturbing (and rarely funny). A few kids were philosophical and strategic about it, “Mommy, you know that much candy isn’t good for you… I hope you get a tummy ache!” (Payback is a powerful motivator.) My favorite was a sweet 3 year old girl in her car seat who forgave her mommy and was trying to make the best of it… “Mommy, maybe next year we can share my candy…”

The lesson?
We don’t take well to hard surprises, to unexpected statements.

Seeing that video reminded me of the time I sat with my sons, Adam and Alex, to have an impromptu devotional about Jesus. They were probably 8 and 10 or close to that; impressionable certainly. Here’s what I read them:
When Jesus saw the crowd around him, he gave orders to cross to the other side of the lake. Then a teacher of the law came to him and said, “Teacher, I will follow you wherever you go.” Jesus replied, “Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head.” Another disciple said to him, “Lord, first let me go and bury my father.” But Jesus told him, “Follow me, and let the dead bury their own dead.” Matthew 8:18-22 (NIV)

The boys looked at me with funny expressions on their faces. It was as if they were saying,

“Dad, you didn’t read that right!” or,
“Dad, that’s not true! Jesus wouldn’t do that!”

I asked them what they thought of the story. They didn’t like it. They didn’t get it. They asked, “Why was Jesus being mean? What’s so wrong with burying your father before you follow Jesus???” (Said, by the way to their father!) I know how they felt. Jesus was responding in an “unexpected” manner. His responses seem surprisingly hard, don’t they?

You’re probably asking…

“Why would you do a devotional on that?” Two things you should know; we didn’t do a lot of devotionals (I wish we had done more!). And I have never liked “predictable” devotionals or studies. You know, “What did Jesus say to his disciples in John 10:10?” fill in the blank, kind of thing. When I read the history in the Bible, I want to enter the scene, feel it, experience it; so here I wanted the boys to use their imagination and see a “live” Jesus…

I purposely picked these scenes…

…because I also wanted them to begin to face a truth about the Lord; He’s not ‘nice.’ Or, ‘sweet.’ Granted, Jesus was not addressing kids in this scene. Nor was He addressing a “needy” or broken person. But He was addressing two seemingly sincere men and the abbreviated dialogue sounds harsh and abrupt.

We must face that there are times…

…when Jesus (not to mention God, the Father) seems hard, severe, and intolerant of our (relatively small, misleading or self-oriented) thoughts and excuses. Think about Moses, Job, Jonah, Gideon, Sarah, Peter and Paul to name a few; God followers who didn’t always agree with God, didn’t get what He was saying or doing, felt that their concerns warranted God reconsidering what He was saying!

Passages like these remind me of the book, Hard Sayings of Jesus by F.F. Bruce, a book I imagine has not sold a lot of copies. (Nor is it on my shelf! I’m resistant too.) There are events and statements that honestly unnerve us, especially if we take them out of context. Especially if we “forget” how much God loves us, fights for us and for what is good.

With that in mind,

… what is the message in these “Jesus Stories” of just two sentences? Don’t God, Jesus and Matthew (the author of the gospel) know that we are all capable of reacting like my sons did? It’s quite easy to get a wrong or troubling message here, isn’t it? Messages like, “Jesus is confusing, moody, demanding, intolerant, hooded in his responses (vs. honest and helpful),” and so on.

But we have to pause.

We have to imagine more if we are to avoid the quick judgments we Americans are prone to make. Commentaries suggest that Jesus is responding to these two men based on their heart and attitude. We’ll look at the scenes more closely in the next blog.

For now, consider these questions:

  1. How do I read the Bible?
  2. What do I do when I come across something I don’t like? Something that surprises me or doesn’t make sense? How come?
  3. What would I have done had I been the one saying to Jesus, “I want to follow you!” and He’d responded that way to me?
  4. Why would anyone do that to their kids the day after Halloween?



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